Fuel protests spread in Europe as OPEC approves output hike - effects in Britain and Belgium
Protests over high fuel prices continued to bite in several European countries on Sunday as OPEC ministers approved an 800,000 barrel per day increase in global crude oil production.
Britain was hit by protests as hauliers blockaded oil depots on Sunday, cutting off the supply to filling stations around the country, even as France was returning to normal following a week of similar action by truckers and farmers.
Demonstrators were blocking two sites in Wales, another two sites in Bristol in the west of England, one near Manchester in the northwest and another at Ellesmere Port, also in the northwest, making fuel scarce.
Some depot managers had already stopped tanker drivers from trying to force their way out of the premises for fear of clashes with demonstrators.
Shell announced that 90 of its 100 service stations in northwest England were out of fuel, and warned that disruption could spread if the blockade of its Ellesmere Port facility, the largest refinery in Europe, continued.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, truck drivers joined forces with farmers and announced a series of road blocks on main routes on Sunday.
Scottish Secretary John Reid said, however, that Britons would not follow the hardline stance of the French truckers and farmers. "The people of this country do not resort to the French way of doing things, which causes massive disruption, inconvenience for their fellow citizens," he said."We do it the British way -- and that means listening."
France was slowly returning to normal on Sunday after hauliers' federations and other professions reached agreements with the government that were expected to ease the financial burden on professional vehicle users.
French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday that the cost of the protest that brought the country literally to a standstill last week is likely to reach three billion francs (457 million euros, 399 million dollars).
In Belgium, road hauliers, coach operators and taxis blocked the centre of Brussels on Sunday, organisers said.
A procession of vehicles began winding its way through the capital, horns blaring, and had blocked the city with trucks three and a half hours later by 3:00 p.m. (1300 GMT), said Marcel Delsemme, the president of the UPTR, one of the main hauliers' associations.
Some 1700 vehicles were involved in the protest, of which 300 were still attempting to block central Brussels late Sunday. Some of the vehicles which left the Belgian capital, wer heading to mount a blockade an oil refinery in the southern Belgian town of Feluy, a UPTR spokesman said.
Truckers union leaders met with Belgian Transport Minister Isabelle Durant Sunday while the Brussels protest was taking place, but no details of the talks were announced. The owners of Belgian haulage companies want the government to introduce emergency measures to compensate them for spiralling diesel prices.
Organisers called Sunday's protest a "first warning" and said they were prepared for further action.
Hauliers from all over Denmark were scheduled to meet on Sunday to discuss possible protest action similar to that in France.
"We shall be discussing the demand we put to the government to reduce taxes (on diesel)," the meeting's organiser Annette Joergensen said in a statement on Friday.
Meanwhile, OPEC ministers meeting in Vienna on Sunday approved an 800,000 barrel per day increase in crude oil production.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ministers had earlier agreed the figure at a nearly four-hour informal meeting at a Vienna hotel, according to several ministers.
The 800,000 figure was in the middle of a range forecast to be agreed by OPEC, dominated by Saudi Arabia, which had reportedly pressed for up to one million extra barrels to be pumped.
The group has come under intense pressure to act decisively to ease oil prices, which soared to 10-year highs of over 35 dollars a barrel last week, sparking warnings of runaway inflation and global economic slowdown.—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)